What do you get when you combine a Canberran institution with a Melbourne food icon? Well, this. Five courses, six matching Spanish wines. Tickets were sold out months ago, well before the event even hit the press. Which gives you an idea of the kind of reputation that Frank Camorra commands. With greying stubble and soft-spoken demeanour, he’s one of the nicest chefs you’ll ever meet, but make no mistake – he is Australia’s king of modern Spanish cuisine. In town to launch his new cookbook, MoVida Solera, he’s partnered with Parlour Wine Room to bring us a taste of MoVida in Canberra….
Word on the street is that MasterChef Australia’s Top 50 auditions have started. Late last year, when I auditioned after waiting for five whole years to be eligible, I remember frantically Googling for tips to try and find out any snippet of information that would help me get through those auditions. After all, that’s the hardest part right – when the thousands of applicants get down to a mere 50.
Unlucky for me, the interwebs had no answers. So while I’m a bit late to give you tips for 2015’s Top 50, in the spirit of sharing, helping others recognise their dreams and of course, making sure Google has the the answers to all of life’s questions, here are my top tips for making it through to the Top 24.
The first step is of course the 6 page, 60 question, tell-me-everything-about-your-life application that stands between you and being called in for auditions. And you know what? It’s just luck. It depends on what the producers are looking for this year, how thorough they’ve been with reading through applications – are they just looking at a few key questions. You know how I know – I submitted EXACTLY the same application, word-for-word, last year as I did the year before. Of course, if you want to increase your chances of getting lucky, it’s best to include details of every significant trauma in your life in excruciating detail for instance, anyone in your family having life-threatening illness, having survived through any horrific situations (think bushfires, earthquakes, wars) or anything along those lines. If, like me, you’ve lived a mostly normal life – well then, you take your chances.
Make like a boy scout and be prepared. The off camera audition process has changed over the years, so think of a dish you can cook using any meat (make sure you refer to it as protein for bonus points) – like a curry, for instance. Think of a dish you can cook using a cut of meat that you can’t be sure exactly where it’s from – meatballs, for example. And think of a dish that you can adapt to any situation – like dumplings, you can stuff those little suckers with almost anything. And have a signature dish. Yes, yes I know it’s pretty wanky and I personally don’t invite guests over to come have dinner featuring my ‘signature dish’, but at least think of one. If you don’t, like me, you risk going to auditions on two hours sleep, can of V in hand, after being up til 3am trying to wing it creating one. It does not look good to be on camera almost drunk on no sleep, eyebags galore.
Ask any chef (and in fact, Heston refers to it in his book, Heston at Home) and you’ll find that the biggest difference between amateurs and professionals is that they season their food properly. It’s a fine line, and one you can only learn with practice – learn it.
Have a story
Remember that every audition for a reality TV show is essentially a casting session. Before you get on camera, you have to prove you’re going to be worthwhile. And standing between you and the judges, are producers. MasterChef, like any other show, is about making TV, and for every TV show there needs to be heroes, villains and everyone in between. If you can get the producers/judges to identify with you, you’re halfway there. After so many seasons though, cut the bullshit – the judges are genuinely top blokes, are invested in everyone that they pick and can spot your crap a mile away.
Know what you’re in for
Remember what you’re signing up for – long days of filming, months away from family with barely 20 mins a week in phone calls, potentially giving up your job and a very, very much reduced stream of income (I don’t think I’m allowed to say, but Google it). If you’re anything like me, you’re sick of seeing people whinge about missing their families, cry needlessly on camera and refer to their ‘food journeys’. So, decide what kind of game you want to play. Either be true to yourself or commit to the game, like Survivor in a way, and play the game, tears and all.
Good luck, and I look forward to hearing from those who have auditioned. If you ever need any advice, you can reach me on Twitter. Once you’re in, you’re part of the MasterChef family. It’s a small family, but we are stronger through our shared experiences. And good and bad, it will be like nothing you have ever experienced before.
After a week settling back in, it’s time to get back into blogging. I’ve missed it heaps and I’ve been saving up lots of posts from Europe and Asia to share with all of you, including my most complicated travel mission yet – where to buy pasteis de nata tins in Portugal.
I’ve missed Australia. Quite a lot, actually. And as much as I miss and desperately crave Asian food and local Malaysian hawker favourites, I have to admit that fresh produce in Australia is infinitely better. We have great seafood, we have better quality meat and we have the most amazing fruit and vegetables. I remember not eating tomatoes as a child – if you’ve grown up in Asia, you’ll likely remember tomatoes as orangey coloured, and nothing at all like local tomatoes. Aussie tomatoes are amazing – bright red, bursting with flavour – we get so many heirloom varieties – of course they’re better if you get the at the local market, but even our supermarket tomatoes beat Malaysian ones for flavour any day of the week. And then there’s capsicum… and don’t even get me started on all the milk, yoghurt and cheese. We really are spoilt for choice here.
Now, if I said I went to the market and spotted amazing fresh green silverbeet and thought, hey, I’ll make tortellini – I’d be lying. The truth is that a group of us went to Italian and Sons for a birthday dinner and while all the food was good, it was on the pricey side. But most things in Canberra are, and I was willing to forgive that until I received my main which was 7 pieces of silverbeet tortellini on a plate – for $30. Needless to say I wasn’t full after main, but I was also so annoyed at the portion size that I refused to order dessert. Yeah, take that.
Determined to recreate the (very delicious) tortellini, I headed to the local market where I found that silverbeet is very much in season and only $1.50. Some sage, goats cheese, ricotta and aged Parmigiano-Reggiano later, I was well ahead of the $30 curve and had called up some friends to form the cheap labour tortellini taskforce.
If you’ve never made tortellini before, here’s the step by step guide –
Roll your pasta sheets out, making sure they’re the full width of your pasta rollers. Full width = less trimming = less wastage.
Lay the pasta sheet on a floured bench, then cut along the length of it. Cut into squares, then fill. Brush edges with water.
Bring the two opposite corners of a square together to form a triangle. Using your fingers, seal the two edges, trying to keep the filling as bunched up as possible – this help ensures the ‘butt shape’ as one of my friends call it. Hold the tortellini with your tumb over the filling, and bring both corners in to form the tortellini shape.
See what I mean about the little butt shape?
- 300g 00 flour (or plain flour is fine)
- 3 eggs
- 1 bunch silverbeet
- 15g butter
- 150g goats cheese
- 200g ricotta
- 1 egg
- 30g grated parmesan
- pinch of nutmeg
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 3 slices pancetta, diced (optional)
- 15 leaves sage, washed
- 60g butter
- grated parmesan, for finishing
- Place the flour on a clean work surface and make a well in the centre. Crack the eggs into the well. Use your fingers to mix the eggs and gradually bring in the flour from the sides. Continue stirring and kneading until flour is incorporated. Alternatively, just chuck the flour and eggs into a KitchenAid with a dough hook (or food processor) until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Remove from bowl and use your hands to bring the dough together. Wrap the dough in cling film and set aside to rest.
- To make the filling, remove the white stems from the silverbeet. Finely slice the leaves, then place in a colander and rinse with running water. Set aside in a colander for the excess water to drain.
- Heat a frying pan over medium heat then wring the excess water from the leaves (this is important, or the filling will be waterlogged) before placing in the pan. Let the leaves wilt from the heat. Add the butter for some flavour and stir through. Allow to cool.
- In a bowl, combine, goats cheese, ricotta, egg, grated parmesan and nutmeg. Mix, then season generously with salt and pepper - you want the mixture to be a little saltier than usual, as it's going to be covered in pasta. Add the cooled silverbeet and mix to combine.
- Divide the pasta dough into smaller, more workable pieces. Take the first piece and roll it through a pasta machine on the widest setting. Fold it in half and run it through the machine again, dusting with flour if the dough becomes too sticky. Do this several times – this process is called laminating - you should notice the colour of the dough lighten and the dough becoming smoother.
- This is the part where we try to minimise the wastage of off cuts - all the off cuts have to be rolled together to go through the whole lamination process again so by reducing off cuts, we're saving heaps of time. Run the dough through the machine one more time, making sure the dough almost touches the edge of the roller, this way, you're getting the maximum width out of each pasta sheet.
- Turn the pasta machine down a notch and roll the dough through again. Keep doing this until you're satisfied with the thickness (on my pasta maker it's about a 6 setting.) Dust the pasta sheet with some flour and then place on a bench. Repeat with the lamination process with the other remaining pieces of pasta dough.
- Cut along the length of the rolled pasta sheet - most pasta machines are about 14cm so you should get 2 x 7cm widths of pasta. Cut those into squares - about 7cm x 7cm.
- Place a small amount of silverbeet filing onto the centre of each square - I use a piping bag to do this as it's less messy.
- Brush two edges of each square with water, then fold to form a triangle, making sure the edges are sealed.
- Bring the two points of the triangle together and ta-dah, you have tortellino (that's singular).
- Repeat, with the help of friends, if necessary, until you have a mountain of tortellini. If you are storing the tortellini for a few hours, make sure that your countertop is well dusted with flour or the pasta will stick to the bench.
- To cook the tortellini, place into boiling water, in small batches of 20 and cook until they float. Set aside while you make the sauce.
- To make the brown butter sauce, heat a frying pan over medium heat and fry pancetta (if using). Add the butter and cook until it foams, then add the sage leaves. Watch closely for the solids in the butter to turn brown, then add the tortellini and toss to coat.
- Serve immediately with grated parmesan.